Mr. Sammya Brata a well known photographer from Kolkata, started his journey as a consultant by profession working with the Big 4 and scribbling has been part of his intrinsic desire right from the age of 3. He have won numerous awards in All-India writing competitions but mostly in an "offline" mode. He have been scribbling regularly on my dairy and has his own personal blog. & of course, He love to embrace the "Clicking" sound....it almost drives him into a trance, the trance that never breaks till he succeed in "shooting" his target. Today we will be interacting with one of the finest artist there in our country & a great street photographer Mr. Sammya Brata.
How you got involved in street photography in the first place?
My love for photography got a kick-start during my stay at Meghalaya back in 2011 when I was working with the Department of Commercial Taxes, Government of Meghalaya as a consultant when I got a chance to explore this picturesque state; I didn’t have a camera back then, but what I saw with my naked eyes was nothing less than amazing. On my very first fly-back to Calcutta, I bought a Sony Cyber-shot and started exploring the State of Meghalaya. To be very honest, I wasn’t aware of the idea of “Street photography” back then but the fact that I enjoyed the vibes of local markets and villages much more than shooting the picturesque landscapes of the State was indicative of the fact that capturing people, life and moments were primarily my points of interest. I was initially reluctant to share my photographs on social media channels but the day I got to know about the Facebook platform “APF Magazine Street Photography” and browsed through the incredible collection of photographs posted by the members, I could eventually “map” the common linkage with my style of photography. Since storytelling through text was my forte till then, it didn’t take me too long to get accustomed with the idea of “visual storytelling” through photographs.
When did you know street photography could be your field of expertise?
As I mentioned, I realized this very early in my journey as a photography enthusiast since I always had the inclination to create evocative images that would speak for themselves. While I was unaware of the conventional terms like “juxtaposition”, “decisive moment” or even “candidness”, the idea of visual storytelling came to be naturally. Being a full-time consultant, I have always been a “photographer on weekends”; but then whenever I got the opportunity to head out with my camera, the intention was pretty much the same – to compose unique thought-provoking images.
What is street photography for you?
Street photography, to me, is a tool to paint on a canvas of limitless possibilities. And in this process, I feel that the street photographers develop a unique vision that segregates them from the rest of the lot; the beauty of this form of photography is in it’s potential to unveil astonishing perspectives and interpretations of an otherwise drab and mundane scenario.
In-fact, I won’t be overstating if I say that the art of Street Photography has had a positive impact on my nature to a large extent – I have become more observant and analytical in real life, as if in sync to what we do while shooting on the street or decoding a street image.
What's the most unusual feature of street photography?
I believe the most unusual feature of street photography is in its unpredictability. In course of my talks or webinars, a very common question that crops up is – “Where in Calcutta could I get the best street shots?” and the response it fetches every-time is “ANYWHERE”; that is INDEED the beauty of this genre. You can compose iconic street images even within your locality; your geographical location or even the device used hardly matters since street photography is all about the decisive moment. This comes with the caveat that you need to be ready at every point in time since a natural moment can never be recreated. There have been so many instances when I have anticipated specific compositions in my mind and eventually ended up clicking something else; make no mistake, street photography can surprise you.
How important is the originality of work in street photography?
Let’s be honest with this, nobody appreciates a second-hand copy of an already established product or idea. And with so many esteemed icons in this field, people recognize their work even without looking at their names judging by their unique style of framing, composition or storytelling. In a creative field, being original with your art is the underlying principle – copying someone else’s style might get your short-term fame, but eventually lead to a grave impact on your own reputation.
How can artists find their independent styles?
The art of photography is very personal to be honest, it’s how you look at things. And I strongly believe that the “Art of seeing” needs to be developed first before you jump into the “Art of photographing” – in-fact, to me the latter is often inconsequential since an image is first made in your mind, while hitting the shutter is just a call to action. Hence, it is important to invest time and effort to polish your skills. In my opinion, even a God-gifted talent needs fine-tuning which can only be achieved through application and practice. One must step out of their comfort zones and explore the hidden alleys of their city in the quest for unique frames; as a part of this exercise one might try and visit ONE PARTICULAR SPOT for 7 consecutive days and attempt at bringing out fresh perspectives, of course once the pandemic is over. Of course, experience in shooting and looking at works of veterans adds that razor sharp edge to your skill but it’s equally important to not get “influenced” by an already existing popular frame.
What are the clichés in street photography that you don’t appreciate?
In-spite of a number of articles and interviews of established street photo-artists being published and widely circulated on social media, multiple number of clichés still continue to exist in the spectrum of Street Photography the primary ones being shooting poverty and “mandatory” presence of human element in your frame. Let’s get this straight, documenting poverty doesn’t at all feature under street photography; in-fact shooting them and publishing images on global platforms end up tarnishing the image of your own city or country as a whole. Many youngsters also have a perception that perhaps inclusion of a “human element” is a checkbox that you need to tick for your image to qualify as a street image which isn’t entirely true. I recently came across a Street Photographer’s community floating a theme called “human less” under their umbrella of weekly thematic competitions which was a good move the break the myth in line with this widely accepted notion about street photography.
Furthermore, there is a perception that street photographers might not find it easy when it comes to trying their hands with other forms of commercial photography like shooting for advertisements or wedding. On the contrary, I believe that they are the best suited for any form of photography since they have firm expertise in framing and composition in trying and testing circumstances without the aid of artificial light or any other external assistance.
What is your take on social media influence on street photography?
Well, not just in case of street photography, but any creative form both appreciation and criticism would be deemed to be necessary. And with social media platforms especially Instagram and Facebook growing increasing popular with photographers, there’s no harm in denying that it is providing everyone a great opportunity to reach out to the global audience fairly easily these days. Appreciating leads to encouragement which in turn, leads to enhanced motivation towards create quality content. With brands associating with influencers on a regular basis these days, social media has opened up a lot of possibilities of earning through photography. And when you have such a powerful platform to back you, it’s also important to stick to your natural style and not get carried away by trends. A trending photograph might look good to the eye, but it might not be strong enough on the story-telling front. I personally feel that of late, we are getting to see a lot of repetitive content on these social channels which is fairly harmful for the art since the artists are getting encouraged “by default” for creating such content on a regular basis.
What is the most underrated feature of street photography you wish everyone discussed more about?
I guess no one talks about the number of failures leading up to one successful though provoking street image. From my experience, I have encountered more failures than success when it comes to the anticipation v/s successful outcome ratio on the streets, but that’s the other side of street photography that nobody knows. But I guess these failures are critically important for your development as a street photographer since most of the activities or occurrences on the street are not in your control; the way those sets of permutations and combinations run in your mind trying to stitch a virtual storytelling composition is a fascinating tale in itself.
What differentiates a professional street photographer from the rest?
Though I am not a professional by any stretch of imagination, all I can say is, vision and anticipation are two critical attributes that define a street photographer. A good street photographer is a diligent observer, a meticulous investigator and a street-smart creator. For me a Street Photographer is the other name for Street Smart Photographer, he is almost like a ghost who appears in the scene, captures his moment and disappears before any of the subjects gets to realize his/her presence.
Who are the street photographers whom you look up to and why?
Since I pretty much found my way looking at images posted in the group “APF Magazine Street Photography”, I must say that the work of Vohra brothers has inspired me a lot right from Day 1. In-fact I have had the privilege to interact with them on a personal front and I learn from them with every passing day. Besides, I really like the work of Muhammad Imam Hassan, GMB Akash, Alan Schaller, Craig Reilly, Moises Levy, Soumalya Ghosh to name a few.
Do you believe readings and studies on this genre does help? Which work you recommend and why?
While reading books helps you understand and address those technical issues in your photography, I believe going out there and learning it the hard way helps eventually. However, some of the books that I personally found to be very helpful and would like to recommend to the readers are Genesis by Sebastião Salgado, A way into India by Raghubir Singh, Our Kolkata by Jayanta Saha and Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs.
Do you take photos for yourself or for others?
Unless and until I’m shooting for a brand as a part of a professional campaign where I need to stick to the brief, I do it for myself. This is my own space; I don’t seek validation from anyone when it comes to this form of creative expression.
What message would you like to give other practicing street photographers?
1. Leave your ego behind before stepping out onto the Street
2. Have a smile on your face and respect people’s privacy
3. Stay fit so that you are always ready to squat if the situation demands you to
4. Don’t hesitate to use your mobile phones (and at times the front camera to activate the “stealth mode”) while shooting on the Street
5. Be creative and don’t pay too much of attention to the “myths” of street photography